By John Fanta
BOSTON – The date was December 30, 2017 and Jay Wright was beside himself.
In their second BIG EAST game of the season, his Villanova Wildcats surrendered 101 points to Butler. The Dawgs hit 16 three’s on their way to handing the first loss of the season to the top-ranked team in the nation.
“It was a slap in the face to us,” said Wright.
Nearly three months later, his team’s heading to the Final Four for the second time in the last three years. Villanova used a greatly improved defense to lock down Texas Tech and win the East Regional Final, 71-59.
While the Wildcats shot just 33 percent from the field and struggled at 4-of-24 from three-point land, they held their ground and got stops. Texas Tech went just 33 percent from the field themselves. On top of the defense, Villanova’s rebounding efforts outdid Texas Tech as well, as the Cats pulled down a season-high 51 boards.
“It’s specifically gratifying to see 33 percent (from the field) and out-rebounding them in the biggest game so far,” said Wright. “I’ve learned a lot from these guys, because we were not a good defensive team for most of the year. At some point we said, ‘hey, we’ve got to go back to the basics defensively, and these guys really bought in.”
The Cats showed that they don’t need the three-point shot to win, even on the big stage.
“We just try so hard not to worry about if our shots aren’t falling or not,” said Jalen Brunson, who was named East Regional Most Outstanding Player after the game. “We try to pride ourselves on defense and rebounding, and we just did a great job of that. I feel like that kept us in the game more than anything.”
Now, that defense has the Wildcats heading back to Texas, just two wins away from another shining moment for Wright’s dynasty.
More Villanova coverage to come at ncaahoopsdigest.com…